For nearly half a century, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, which was established by Congress in 1959, provided information on relationships among local, state and national levels of government, including the flagship publication Significant Features of Fiscal Federalism. The commission fell victim to budget cuts in 1996, to the dismay of journalists, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, all of whom made heavy use of the data. After a hiatus of more than a decade, the Lincoln Institute and the George Washington Institute of Public Policy have stepped in to provide information once again on public finance and local property taxation in all 50 states, with the online database, Significant Features of the Property Tax.
“This small agency did more to shed light on … the unique features of fiscal federalism than any other group,” said Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, at an event at George Washington University June 8 in Washington D.C. to announce the online database, in the Resources and Tools section of www.lincolninst.edu. “It was a cross between a dictionary, bible, and encyclopedia. Since its demise we’ve been contacted by many who said we want to revive this, but none came to fruition. My hat’s off to you folks.”
“We’re testing the ‘Field of Dreams’ theorem – that if you build it, they will come,” said Gregory K. Ingram, president of the Lincoln Institute, noting his commitment to make more data available for researchers and others.
Significant Features of the Property Tax was the brainchild of Joan Youngman, senior fellow and chair of the Department of Valuation and Taxation at the Lincoln Institute, who designed the database to allow users to zero on individual states, but also compare across states. The team at George Washington Institute of Public Policy spent four years tracking down the data and creating tables that can be customized and downloaded as spreadsheets.
“I get asked all the time – what do other states do, on tax relief or economic development incentives,” said David Brunori, research professor at George Washington Institute of Public Policy and a contributing editor at State Tax Notes. “What this will allow people to do is find the answers, and look at best practices. It will be a roadmap that will be incredibly valuable. This will also bridge the gap between academics and policymakers.”
Nancy Augustine, former research associate at George Washington and now program manager at the Pew Center on the States, led a walk-through of the online database, and noted that the data, current to 2006, will be updated through 2009. The site is organized in these major categories: General Characteristics of Local Taxation of Property, covering real and personal properties that are taxed, basic and differential local property tax rates, local jurisdictions’ use of transfer charges when properties change hands, and limits placed by states on local jurisdictions’ authority to use the property tax; Property Tax Relief and Incentive Programs, a listing grouped according to objectives for providing relief to homeowners and encouraging economic development and preservation of farmland and open space; and Structural Arrangements of Property Assessment, a data set on land use types in use in each of the states to characterize the property tax base and the assessment standard used to value that property. The site also displays statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau's Census of Governments on the property tax in the context of state and local finances. Data for the years 2005, 2002, and 1992 are reported for state and local governments combined and separately. For each year and each set of governments, data are presented for each revenue source in nominal dollars, as a share of all revenues, per capita, and as a percent of personal income.
“Significant Features of the Property Tax reflects our mission of providing data and conducting research on state and local fiscal policy,” said Hal Wolman, director of the George Washington Institute of Public Policy.